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Details about downed A-50 over Azov Sea and shot-down Il-22M

Details about downed A-50 over Azov Sea and shot-down Il-22M Airborne Command Post Il-22M CPS of the Russian Federation (photo: Wikipedia)

On the evening of January 14, the Ukrainian Air Forces shot down a Russian A-50 airborne early warning aircraft over the Azov Sea. Additionally, they damaged the Air Command Post Il-22.

Detailed characteristics of the destroyed aircraft, their purposes, and their significance to the aggressor.

Long-range airborne early warning aircraft A-50

Aircraft with airborne early warning (AEW) capabilities, such as the A-50, provide military air forces with an advantage over other forces deploying aircraft in the airspace.

The A-50 is equipped with an early warning and control system that detects distant airborne targets. These systems can observe launches of cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as the operation of air defense systems.

In the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Russian AEW aircraft are deployed during missile strikes to monitor the launches of air defense systems. This allows the adversary to know the locations of Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems, enabling them to maneuver around them during subsequent launches.

Additionally, the A-50 is capable of controlling the airspace where aviation operates by detecting, coordinating, and directing its combat aircraft. Another advantage of the aircraft is that from a high altitude, it is easier to establish communication with ground-based combat units, especially with frontline aviation flying at low altitudes, which can complicate communication.

As of today, the Russian Aerospace Forces have nine A-50 aircraft and four upgraded versions - A-50U - in their arsenal. These aircraft are based on the chassis of the Soviet Il-76 cargo planes.

Functionality of A-50 AEW aircraft:

  • Detection and tracking of airborne targets and ships
  • Notification of command posts and automated control systems about the air and surface situation
  • Control of fighter and strike aircraft when guiding them to air, ground, and maritime targets
  • Organization of an airborne command post.

Technical characteristics:

  • Length: 48.27 m;
  • Wingspan: 50.5 m;
  • Height: 14.8 m;
  • Wing Area: 300 m²;
  • Takeoff Weight: 190,000 kg;
  • Fuel Capacity: 109,480 liters.

Flight characteristics:

  • Cruising Speed: 800 km/h;
  • Practical Range: 7500 km;
  • Takeoff Distance: 1540 m;
  • Landing Distance: 1050 m;
  • Flight Duration: 9.3 hours;
  • Thrust-to-weight ratio: 0.34 kgf/kg.

Detection range:

  • Bombers: up to 650 km;
  • Fighters: 300 km;
  • Cruise Missiles: 215 km.

Airborne Command Post Il-22

The Il-22M is an airborne command post from which military forces can be controlled during combat operations. This type of aircraft remains airborne, and it is not susceptible to operational-tactical missiles. In the aircraft's name, the abbreviation APCP (Airborne Protected Command Post) is sometimes used.

The Il-22 was developed in the 1970s, choosing the civilian airliner Il-18 as the base model.

Several military aircraft were developed based on the Il-18, including the Il-22M, as well as the anti-submarine Il-38, reconnaissance Il-20 (one of which was shot down by Syrian air defense in 2018), and the electronic warfare aircraft Il-22PP. The latter is one of the new modifications, appearing only in the second half of the 2010s.

During the conversion from airliners, the passenger cabin was completely removed and specialized equipment was installed. In the case of the Il-22M, the aircraft was also equipped with workstations for the command staff.

Since the 1970s, approximately three dozen Il-22 aircraft have been produced or retrofitted. They have undergone continuous modernization. The latest program, creating the Il-22 LURT (Command and Relay Aircraft) version, is still ongoing.

According to the Military Balance 2022 handbook, at the beginning of the large-scale conflict with Ukraine, Russia had 12 Il-22M aircraft and 10 Il-22 (older modification) aircraft.

Technical specifications:

  • Crew: 5 (two pilots, navigator-bombardier, radio operator-gunner, rear gunner)
  • Length: 21.1 m
  • Wingspan: 23.1 m
  • Height: 10.17 m
  • Wing area: 74.5 m²
  • Takeoff weight: 20,000 kg
  • Fuel capacity: 22,700 liters + 7,300 liters optionally in wingtip tanks
  • Powerplant: 4 × TRD TR-1
  • Thrust: 4 × 940 kgf

Flight characteristics

  • Maximum speed: 685 km/h
  • Cruising speed: 625 km/h
  • Practical range: 6500 km
  • Service ceiling: 11,100 m
  • Takeoff distance: 1144 m

Damage to the A-50 aircraft in Belarus

On February 26, 2023, partisans attacked a Russian reconnaissance plane A-50 using two drones at the Belarusian airfield Machulishchi.

Later, the Ministry of Defense of Belarus released a video showing the damaged aircraft.

The destruction of the Il-22M aircraft during the Prigozhin rebellion

On June 24, 2023, during the uprising of the founder of the Wagner Private Military Company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in Russia, the Il-22 aircraft was destroyed.

According to British intelligence, the loss of the aircraft affected Russian air and ground operations.